Chefs get set for the Hunger Games

Chefs get set for the Hunger Games
Two Chefs and A Boss: Georgina Hill, Keenan Bergins (the boss) and Shimz Smith. (Photo: Supplied)

It’s fun-in-the-kitchen time as chefs rise against hunger for World Food Day. What to cook with a rice and soya meal pack? See how veggie burgers, roosterbrood, risotto, vegetarian frikkadels and Japanese rice balls make it onto the hunger crisis cook-off menu.

Parallel universes. How we live. Where we live. Our lives around food. These being things to chew on when mulling over, pondering, planning a story where the focus is hunger. While prepping a simple little birthday meal to share with a friend. Grill-roasted tomatoes and leeks and a large head of garlic, gnarly inner bits pulled out but otherwise intact. The whole lot seasoned with a crush of coriander seeds, smokey Oryx salt crystals, and a blended infusion of harissa from one of the spice jars that garnish – seems a good word – the busy little shelf above my stove. The flavours mingled via a generous dumping on of olive oil.

I will stop there because this isn’t about the meal. It’s about the fun one can have playing in the kitchen. Not to mention the pleasure of later sharing the food. But sjoe. While the fickle finger of fate drops some of us into a world of enough verging on plenty, it drops so many others into a world of deprivation, malnutrition, impoverishment. A bleak world of survival against all odds.

The organisation Rise Against Hunger (RAH) – an international non-profit that coordinates the packaging and distribution of food and other aid to people in developing nations – was born in the US in 1998 and established here in South Africa in 2009. RAH’s mission is to end hunger. Their focus is on reaching the most vulnerable: in large part, hungry children. A recent Daily Maverick story highlights the lamentable fact that 2.5-million South Africans experience hunger every day. The RAH Africa website cites the following from the UCT Children’s Institute: more than 3 million children and teens under the age of 17 are food insecure.

Tomorrow, October 16, is World Food Day 2021. In a story published a year ago, to mark World Food Day 2020, I read (as you can, here) that RAH, back then, had served 4.2-million meals in South Africa during Covid19.

Team Sibaya: Senzele Zibula, Nomusa Khwela, Maggie Kuppadu, Senzo Gumede and Thulani Nkwanyana. (Photo: Supplied)

So now… Cool bananas. Not literally bananas. Although a pineapple is, by chance, involved. This you will see when you link through and watch (see 5, below) Team Sibaya’s creative Japanese-themed food entry – which includes simple and creative rice balls – in the World Food Day ’21 Chef Showdown. Cool bananas because someone dreamed up this collaboration between RAH and Sun International.

“Before Covid, we had a long-time partnership, Sun International and RAH, where each year on Mandela Day (July 18 this year) we would open up our banquet hall here at GrandWest (Cape Town) to pack meals for RAH,” says executive chef, Mieshkah Solomons, who you can see in action with her team (2, below).

“We usually would go on Mandela Day to GrandWest in Cape Town to pack meals,” says Georgina Hill, executive chef at Golden Valley Casino in Worcester, who you can see in action with her team (1, below). “We did it once at our casino but you get more feet in Cape Town. To weigh the ingredients and pack the meals, one is provided with scales, gloves, a funnel. The packs have rice, soya mince, lentils, a soup mix, a craft pack – almost like seasoning with spice and extra vitamins and minerals. You pack these into 25kg bags. Seal the packs into boxes.”

“There would be 15/20 people per station, packing. Volunteers from corporates as well as our staff,” says Solomons.

“I believe the record to date is 265,000 meal packs on one day,” says Hill.

“With Covid, we haven’t been able to gather to do the meal packs for the past two years,” says Solomons.

So now this new initiative, this new RAH and Sun International partnership. “We had to apply to do the challenge. Register. Submit. We had timelines.”

The Chef Showdown concept in a nutshell is this. Each of the seven teams that chose and applied to compete was given, as their basic ingredients, identical Rise Against Hunger meal packs – rice, soya, lentils, soup mix, spice mix. The instruction was to use this to create something interesting and delicious. Teams were at liberty to add whatever else they chose to include. Each team was required to submit a video of themselves creating their dishes. Also, to do some marketing, to spotlight the work of RAH. To hopefully get more people involved – more support – in these dire times. 

Check out the videos. It is fascinating to see how the different teams, the different chefs, the different establishments, have used the ingredients and what they’ve come up with. One hopes the videos (some of them) will reach meal pack recipients as there are good budget suggestions as well as ideas and tips for those of us who might not be on as tight a budget but who like to cook at home.

Perfect Peppers: Thabo Rakotsoane, Segomotso Seleka and Gerald Chifamba. (Photo: Supplied)

“I think we need to uplift each other in these difficult times,” Chef Gerald Chifamba tells me when I speak to him by phone in Bloemfontein.

His trio of chefs called their team Perfect Peppers (see 4, below) and a lot of thought went into the simplicity of their dish. “We looked at the effect the pandemic has had. There are many people here who are out of work as a result of Covid. People have lost jobs. There are children without fathers. Mothers trying to feed their families on meagre subsidies. Children going to school hungry.

“We decided to use the meal packs to create a simple dish: cheap, healthy and something anyone on a budget could do. The onions, the peppers, the ginger, the garlic, most people can buy easily at the street markets. With the aroma and flavour from the garlic and ginger, we felt the dish could be served to anybody.”

As part of their marketing, they are hoping learners in schools will see the creative food prep possibilities and share them with their parents who might not have thought of “having fun” with basic staples.

Chef Hill, whose team, Two Chefs and a Boss (1, below), approached the challenge with integrity to the ingredients, humour and similar economic restraint, said, “RAH were looking to raise awareness. To get people to take more notice of what they are doing for communities. Then, the meal packs tend to go to communities who don’t really know what to do with food. So we decided to use all the ingredients and to get creative. We thought, let’s push the meal packs. Let’s use what people who get the meal packs might well have in their cupboard to make something interesting.”

This involved turning the rice into rice flour. “To do this one needs to soak the rice first in water for about three hours. Otherwise, if you just grind it, it is too grainy. So you soak it, then let it dry. But leave a bit of moisture in. Then you blitz it. Sure, you could do it with pestle and mortar but we have an industrial grinder.

“So then we have rice flour, to which I added a little pea flour as rice absorbs a lot of water.” Mixed with eggs, yeast, salt, sugar and the veggie spice they were given: “It makes a nice roosterkoek. Like an American biscuit or an English muffin or scone.”

Hill, her teammates, general manager Keenan Bergins “who started off in food and bev and is very hands-on” and Chef Shimz Smith, made “the equivalent of mushroom or monkey gland sauce, our relish for the burger (to go in the roosterkoek)” with red and brown onions and, well, check out the video.

“Then we soaked the soya in water to rehydrate it and proceeded to add the lentils and the soup mix.” Also some onion, garlic, Worcester sauce and rice flour as a binding agent. They moulded this into the burgers, “which must go into the fridge to set.” Then three minutes over the fire on each side.

“My mom is gluten intolerant so I understand this and kept it in mind creating the dish,” says Hill, who trained as a chef during nine years she spent in the UK, which included working in gastropubs in London.

Chefs that Care: Andrew Dietrich, Mieshkah Solomons, Carmen Mokate-Paulse and Abigail Fulton. (Photo: Supplied)

If you want to see a cool chef cook a ribeye on the bone, check out the Maslow Beasts (3, below). And a fun team video that includes “sexy” ways with oxtail, see the Times Square Legends in action (6, below).

Back to Chef Solomons and her Chefs that Care team. “We used the entire packs and, taking the current economic crisis into consideration, also decided to include basic proteins – chicken and eggs – plus breadcrumbs, to make a cheap meal that is still fancy.”

Their cook-off menu (2, below) includes a detailed chicken roulade “how to”, a savoury rice dish and – where the breadcrumbs come in, vegetarian frikkadels “with a twist”. “These are cost effective for a low income family. Also, they are such a typical Cape Malay dish, we thought they were ideal to include, our team being in this part of the country.”

Like a little potjie pot, the showdown has three legs: best recipe; best chef; and most money raised. DM/TGIFood

Go online via the links below to watch the videos of the chefs and the teams in action.

  1. See Two Chefs and A Boss here. (Golden Valley Casino, Worcester)
  2. See Chefs that Care here. (GrandWest, Cape Town)
  3. See the Maslow Beasts here. (The Maslow, Sandton)
  4. See Perfect Peppers here. (Windmill Casino, Bloemfontein)
  5. See Team Sibaya here. (Sibaya Casino, Durban)
  6. See the Times Square Legends here. (Times Square, Tshwane)
  7. The Wild Chefs, the Wild Coast Sun team, had not uploaded their video at time of writing but see their page (perhaps their video) here

Readers who want to get involved in helping will find ways via the links. Keep checking back for showdown winners; although isn’t everyone a winner for entering? The Two Chefs and a Boss team have a Facebook page here. The Chefs that Care team has a Facebook page here. Again, link through to the World Food Day ’21 Chef Showdown website where you can watch all the participating team videos.


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